Monday, December 3, 2018

‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ No Longer Restraining Putin, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – The principle of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) which restrained Washington and Moscow from using nuclear weapons and prevented the outbreak of a nuclear war has broken down in the minds of Vladimir Putin, Andrey Piontkovsky says. As a result, the Kremlin is ready to use such weapons confident that the West will not respond in kind.

            Sometime before 2014, the Russian commentator says, Putin and “a small group in the Russian military-political leadership” including Nikolay Patrushev and Valery Gerasimov concluded that despite its relative backwardness, “Russia is nonetheless capable of winning a hybrid war” against the West (

                “Victory” for this group means “at a minimum, the restoration of the ‘Yalta’ zone of their power in Europe, the self-liquidation of NATO as a result of its incapacity to fulfill its Article 5 commitments, the demonstration of the inability of the US to act as ‘the leader of the free world,’ and as a result, the departure of the West from world history,” Piontkovsky continues.

            Besides Russia’s much-ballyhooed “’spirituality,’” he says, Moscow’s ultimate cards in this game are nuclear weapons.  Their use had been precluded in the past by the mutual acceptance in Moscow and Washington of MAD, the idea that an attack on one would result in the destruction of both.

            But now the situation has changed, Piontkovsky insists; and MAD no longer plays the role for Moscow that it did until recently.  The reason, he says, is that “a nuclear power, seeking to change the existing status quo and having greater political will for such change, greater indifference to the value of human live and a definite dose of adventurism may achieve serious foreign policy result by the threat of the extremely use application of nuclear weapons.”

            Putin has little but contempt for his “Western partners,” and one can understand why: They either seek to ignore what he does, play down the threat, and try to recast whatever aggression he engages in in ways that they can still engage in diplomacy rather than respond with force.  Unfortunately, such behavior only reinforces Putin’s view of them.

            And because of that, Piontkovsky says, the Kremlin leader keeps raising the stakes, the latest being his use of regular Russian naval vessels in the Kerch Straits on November 25, a date that is “no less important” than February 20 when Putin invaded Crimea and even more dangerous because he did so this time openly rather than under cover.

            Clearly, “after several years of vacillations, Putin has decided on a new and serious escalation in his hybrid war with the West, a war he counts on winning.” The West did not initially respond in ways that will restrain him, given that he sees such foreign policy moves as the only way to save his domestic position and because he identifies himself with Russia.

            Now “after several days of vacillation,” the US appears to have decided not to give in to Putin’s blackmail and “not to surrender Ukraine to the aggressor. This is good news: for Ukraine, for Russia and for the world,” Piontkovsky says.  But unfortunately, there is also “bad news,” and it must be faced.
            “Putin in the foreseeable future will take another step to exacerbate the military-political situation.”  As someone committed to nuclear blackmail, he must be stopped before he goes beyond the threat of using nuclear weapons to actually using them, a task made even more difficult because he no longer accepts MAD as a guiding and restraining principle.

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